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In Time for SXSW, a Brief History of Austin's 'Don't Move Here' T-Shirts

An artist's rendering of the back of the Wannabes' 1997 t-shirt.

The story of Austin's various "Don’t Move Here" t-shirts is, in many ways, the story of Austin itself: the transformation of an undiscovered secret into something much bigger. 

While the "Don’t Move Here" meme certainly predates its first recorded t-shirt printing – not to mention the concept of a "meme" itself – modern history posits spring 1997 as the time it was first put to cotton.

It was then that Austin pop-rockers The Wannabes minted a batch of merch bearing the slogan.

As the Austin Chronicle noted that year, bestowing the accolade of Best Band Shirt upon the group:

Unveiled just in time for '97's SXSW, the yellow-and-black Wannabes shirt was as direct as you could want it: "Wannabes" and "Austin, Texas" on the front, and "Don't Move Here" on the back. What a lovely way to tell the assembled throng, "Thanks for visiting," with the emphasis on visiting.

A straightforward enough sentiment in response to both South by Southwest and – more broadly – Austin's burgeoning popularity, which was rapidly morphing from Richard Linklater's "Slacker" to MTV's "Austin Stories."

Fast-forward a few years to today: The Wannabes still play the occasional gig (last seen playing a memorial show for SXSW Music creative director Brent Grulke), but the "Don't Move Here" shirt is everywhere. Here is a $33.45 version. Here's a $20 t-shirt, as seen on the cover of Austin Monthly, which even ran a story on its "sassy" t-shirt.

Tees aren't your thing? Here is a $20 infographic poster with some numbers to back it up.

Similar to how "Keep Austin Weird" began life as an open source rallying cry, only to be trademarked by a t-shirt company, "Don't Move Here" isn't immune from a backlash: this thread on the Austin page of Reddit ponders whether "we've taken our narcissism about our city a little to far."

But t-shirt or not, it's a message that resonates. And at least its present day standard bearers offer some constructive criticism: Austin may be full up, but there's always Dallas.

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